Any conversation about Lambrusco inevitably circles back to Riunite. The fizzy sugar bomb of an Italian wine was wildly popular in the 1970s; it’s a version of Lambrusco comparable to Coke Classic in its general depth and nuance…or lack thereof. And it soured many wine-drinkers on the centuries-old frizzante, or sparkling, red wine produced in Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region.
But, like beards, empire waists, or neon hues, everything cycles back in vogue sooner or later. Lambrusco is creeping back onto a few Italocentric Seattle menus. Though not technically an Italian restaurant, Oddfellows has declared this the summer of Lambrusco, bringing in a Lambrusco produced by Cleto Chiarli, specifically a Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro, a title denoting the specific zone where the wine is produced.
Rachel Eggers, who coordinates media and marketing for all Linda Derschang’s restaurants, says the idea arose after she had a glass of Lambrusco down in Portland, then discovered her boss had also acquired a taste for Lambrusco on her frequent visits to New York. Eggers describes this particular wine as “the Platonic ideal of Lambrusco,” fruit-noted, slightly sweet but finishing dry. It’s $8 a glass and $32 a bottle, and chef Forrest Brunton and pastry chef Yoshiko Rhodes have concocted a gelatina with the Lambrusco and Bing cherries, topped with black pepper and Chantilly cream, for the summer menu. A few blocks to the east, Artusi has a Lambrusco, Pederanza “La Grasparossa,” on the menu for $42 a bottle or $7 for a four-ounce pour, as well as a rose version, Lin 910 Labrusca Lambrusco Rosato, for $12 a glass and $45 a bottle.
Local wine blogger Jameson Fink deems Lambrusco one of the best wines to drink with pizza or a plate of cured meat. Since those two items are practically a food group on Seattle menus, he hopes we will see an uptick in Lambrusco drinking, as restaurateurs introduce customers to the wine’s considerable charms.
That’s already happening at Bar del Corso; here servers and co-owner Gina Tolentino (the other owner is her husband and titular pizzaiolo, Jerry Corso) are quick to suggest Lambrusco…and those bubbles do help take the edge off those hourlong, but totally worthwhile, waits. Bar del Corso also sells Cleto Chiarli. “We like it because it's a really festive, crisp, effervescent, low-alcohol wine for the summer, but really anytime,” says Tolentino. “It's also unusual to find a sparkling red wine in this country.” The restaurant has another sparkling red, Castello di Luzzano Bonarda, on its list. By a most fortunate coincidence, this weekend's forecast is incredible, and Bar del Corso is debuting its sidewalk seating.
Another recommendation from Fink: In bottle shops, look for the Cantine Ceci La Luna Lambrusco, which is dry, though there are plenty of well-made versions that are slightly sweet. He says, “I'd like to think that the newest generation of wine drinkers have less experience with cloying, cheap versions that haunt my palate and damaged the reputation of high-quality Lambrusco."
Should you need further proof that Lambrusco is worth exploring, the New York Times wine panel sang its praises earlier this week.
Another reason Lambrusco is perfect for summer patio sessions—most versions have a relatively low alcohol level for wine, usually hovering around 8 percent.